Special to The Sun
These days, perhaps the only thing more difficult than winning a District 5A-2 championship is capturing a 5A state title.
The Deer Creek football team got the first done Friday night. And with the way the Antlers are playing, the state title could be next.
Deer Creek dominated the fourth period and ran away from previously unbeaten Bishop McGuinness, 25-12, in Oklahoma City. The result is that the Antlers, the Fighting Irish and defending state champion Guthrie each finish with only one loss in district play, but because the final spread was by more than six points, Deer Creek will place first.
“This is huge for our program,” said safety Caden Sander, who sealed the win with a pair of interceptions in the fourth quarter. “Our district is really tough, because you have to beat teams like Carl Albert, Guthrie and McGuinness. And you not only have to win, but you have to get your points.”
The Fighting Irish had a 12-10 lead in the fourth period when the Antlers simply took over. They had 122 yards rushing in the final frame, including two rushing scores, and the defense forced Sander’s two picks.
It was a surprising turn of events against a Fighting Irish team known for its physical nature.
“That’s one of the things our offseason conditioning has done for us,” DC head coach Grant Gower said. “We really didn’t expect that, but we did really run the ball well down the stretch.”
The turning point may have come with less than 11 minutes remaining in the contest. With McGuinness up 12-10, Deer Creek quarterback Joel Blumenthal was chased out of the pocket on a third-and-15 play and threw one up for grabs down the field. Wide receiver Kale Jackson went over a defensive back and managed to get enough of the ball to haul in a reception at the 4. Running back Brennan Miyake punched it in on the next play and the Antlers converted a 2-point conversion pass to make it 18-12 with 10:17 left.
The Fighting Irish failed to get a first down on the next possession, and Deer Creek added the knockout blow on a 42-yard touchdown romp by Alec James. The point-after put the Antlers ahead, 25-12, with 8:58 remaining.
Deer Creek’s defense seemed to only get stronger as the game went along. McGuinness scored on a pair of touchdown runs in the first half, but were shut out the second half, managing only 62 yards and turning the ball over three times.
“You’ve got to credit our defensive staff,” Blumenthal said. “I think our defense felt like they had something to prove, even more than our offense, because everyone had been talking about how McGuinness had the best defense in the state.”
The Fighting Irish had posted five consecutive shutouts, including against previously No. 1 Guthrie, and had given up only 33 points all season — an average of less than 4 an outing.
Blumenthal managed 200 yards on 18-of-26 passing with Jared Rayburn hauling in seven catches for 107 yards. Blumenthal also rushed for 58 yards, while Miyake went for 82 and James had 57.
Blumenthal felt Jackson’s fourth-quarter catch that set up the game-winning touchdown was the spark the Antlers had been looking for.
“We talked at halftime about beating them deep,” he said. “We just needed someone to go and make a big-time play, and he made a big-time play.”